Competition Bill Advances

April 1, 2022

Last week, the Senate held two votes—both approved 68 to 28—to advance H.R. 4521, the America COMPETES Act. The bill is aimed at increasing U.S. competitiveness and boosting manufacturing, particularly in the semiconductor industry. The legislation has the support of the White House, and these key Senate votes mean that the House and Senate will soon begin a formal House-Senate conference to consider differences between the America COMPETES Act and S. 1260, the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which the Senate passed last June. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he hopes that the conference committee process can begin by next week.

Both bills are aimed at increasing the competitiveness of the U.S. — in particular against China — with a significant emphasis on boosting scientific and engineering innovation, research and development, and production of advanced electronic components in the U.S. There was considerable overlap between the USICA, and the original contents of the America COMPETES Act, including on regional strategies to counter China. However, substantive differences also exist in several areas, including economic diplomacy, strategic and diplomatic matters, and multilateral strategies to bolster U.S. power.

Further, the COMPETES Act includes $52 billion to fund the CHIPS for America Act that aims to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing – a major element in the Biden administration’s broad campaign to improve U.S. competitiveness against China. The bills also would create a new technology-focused directorate at the National Science Foundation.

Also expected to be included in the conference bill are provisions from the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, versions of which have recently been approved by the House. A version sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) takes aim at the Federal Maritime Commission by requiring carriers to issue certain reports to the commission each quarter. The bill also would authorize the commission to self-initiate certain investigations partly related to late fees, and it would pave the way for the registration of shipping exchanges.

For NSBA, the reauthorization of SBIR/STTR for five years is most critical as these programs are an essential source of R&D funding to high-tech small businesses. The SBIR/STTR programs are currently set to expire on Sept. 30, 2022, and NSBA supported an amendment offered by House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) which reauthorized the programs, including related pilots for five years in the COMPETES Act.

Reauthorizing the SBIR/STTR program is critical to small businesses’ ability to develop emerging technologies for America’s economic future and national security. As USICA and America COMPETES are reconciled in the coming weeks, NSBA is urging Congress to include reauthorization of SBIR/STTR in the final bill.